“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail" is a Terrible Saying

Scott Brown

No one really knows who first came up with the oft-repeated quote “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” While many attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, there’s scant evidence that he ever actually said it. What is clear, however, is that it’s a terrible quote.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a morning workout that included weight training. As anyone who works out with weights can attest to, the weight that one lifts for a given body part is not arbitrarily chosen. The goal is to lift a weight light enough so that one can reach the desired number of repetitions before the targeted muscle can no longer lift the weight safely without rest, but not so light that the muscle can handle the load ad infinitum. Using a weight that’s sufficiently heavy is how the muscle gains strength over time.

In other words, by design the result of weight training is to fail over and over again, day after day.

My point is not that failing to plan is a good thing. It’s that planning to fail shouldn’t be thought of as the penalty that awaits those who lack the foresight to plan. Planning to fail is one of the best ways to grow, and engineering your planning and goals so that you are protected from failure (in other words, planning not to fail) is about the most self-limiting thing you can do.

So, what is the penalty for failing to plan, if it’s not failing to plan? Often a lack of planning leads to a general feeling of detachment from one’s performance altogether. The implications and growth opportunities that come with one’s performance in relation to the “bigger picture” don’t register, because there is no “bigger picture.” This lack of insight into the daily wins and losses is a fate far worse than failure, in my opinion.

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